Slowly, as the campaign gained momentum, Riley signed on sponsors that provided both money and technology for the boat. Some engineers from NASA pitched in on the design work. "It's such a new sport in terms of sponsorship and business that you need all the credibility you can get," says Riley, who lives frugally in a studio apartment in San Francisco and is deferring her salary as CEO of the syndicate and captain of the crew until after the Cup. "Since I'm a woman, in the beginning people wanted to believe I wasn't credible. They forgot that I'd sailed in two America's Cups."
Surprisingly, one person she had to convince was Koch. "My first advice was, 'Don't do it,' " he says. "Then it was that she should raise as much money as she could." Those honest answers, from a man widely considered to be a maverick in sailing circles, were the dose of reality that Riley needed.
"In our relationship he's like a mentor," she says of Koch. "He's not afraid to tell me what he thinks."
America True is now on its way to Auckland. Its crew members will go next month and will remain in New Zealand until they are beaten or they come home with the Cup. They have already been to Hauraki Gulf, site of the Cup races, once, for a three-month training session. In the upcoming races Riley—unlike most other syndicate CEOs, who skipper their crews—will take up her customary position in the middle of the boat, in the pit, managing a tangle of lines to help America True tack. John Cutler of New Zealand will be at the helm. "I don't need to be steering," Riley says. "It's not an ego thing. That's not what I'm most comfortable doing."
She has been working too hard to consider what she'll do when her Cup campaign is all over. "I'll figure it out when it happens," she says, "but people keep coming up with different jobs. I got done with a speech a few weeks ago, and somebody told me I could be a lobbyist."
For now, however, Riley is content with her surprising status as the front-runner.